Microsoft moves away from “robot speak” in its user documentation

DSC00498One of the highlights from the Technical Communications UK 2014 conference was the keynote presentation from Microsoft’s Doug Kim. Doug is Senior Managing Editor for Office.com, and leads guidelines and best practices for Voice in Office. By Voice, he means the tone of voice and style of English used in the User Interface and user documentation.

Doug Kim at TCUK14

The change in voice is something we explore on our advanced technical writing techniques course, so I was interested to see how Microsoft was addressing this topic. The good news for us is that Microsoft’s approach is consistent with what we advocate on the course (however, we will need to update the course before the next one in December to include some of the topics Doug discussed).

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Your policy and procedures manual as software

Jared Spool tweeted this morning:

HyperCard was a hypertext program that came with Apple Macintosh in the 1980s. It allowed you to create “stacks” of online cards, which organsiations used to create some of the first online guides. It also contained a scripting language called HyperTalk that a non-programmer could easily learn. This meant HyperCard could do more than just display content: it could be used to create books, games (such as Myst), develop oil-spill models, and even dial the telephone.

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SharePoint for documentation projects

Most of the Technical Authors I have met don’t have a good thing to say about Microsoft SharePoint. In many ways, it represents how not to publish content online. It is seen as encouraging people to move print-optimised documents (Blobs) around, rather than units of content (Chunks), and users are typically left to rely on search to find which document contains the information they are looking for.

For all those issues, SharePoint may still have its place – for managing documentation projects.

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Our process for creating elearning videos

I will be talking at the Technical Communications UK 2014 conference (TCUK14) next month about creating videos for technical communication and elearning videos.

elearning video screen captureIt covers how to embed video in a course. The delegates see, in each recorded module, a video of the trainer on the right of the screen, with the slides, application walkthroughs or images on the left of the screen.

This format is more engaging for delegates than a disembodied voice talking over a slide or image.

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Writing documentation for the games industry

Flickr Creative Commons image Marco Verch

Last week, I visited Gamescom in Cologne. Gamescom is the largest exhibition and trade fair for computer games in Europe, with over 335,000 people attending this five day event. We visited for social rather than business purposes, but it led me to reflect on the work we and others have done in writing documentation for the games industry.

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Is it ok for technical communicators to experiment on users?

Experiment sign Flickr CC image by jurvetsonBBC News is reporting the OKCupid Website has revealed that it experimented on its users. It decided to reveal the tests after the discovery that Facebook had been manipulating the feeds of its users.

It’s possible for anyone to run experiments on web pages, including technical communicators. You can display one page for 50% of your audience and a different page for the other 50%. Organisations carry out these tests to see if there is any change in user behaviour as a result of making a change to the site.

According to Christian Rudder of OKCupid:

“It’s not like people have been building these things for very long, or you can go look up a blueprint or something. Most ideas are bad. Even good ideas could be better. Experiments are how you sort all this out.”

So is it ok for Technical Authors to experiment on users? If it results in the creation of better, more effective, Web pages would you, as a user, object? Clearly, most of us would object to a website manipulating us or causing potential harm – could that ever apply to the type of experimentation a Technical Author might carry out?

Technical communication as a brand – The CEO and the technical communicator

The CEO and the technical communicator ebookSince I wrote the post on Technical communication as a brand, we’ve been working on an idea we had for promoting the profession. The end result is another story, another free graphic novel you can download, called The CEO and the technical communicator.

It’s published under a Creative Commons licence, so anyone can forward it on, as long as they don’t modify it or sell it.

There’s a lot of factual evidence about the value of technical communicators to an organisation (such as the ROI calculators on our website), so we thought we’d see if we could appeal to the heart as well as the head by using a story-based approach.

Technical communication comes in many forms, so there were some challenges in coming up with something that was representative of the whole profession. Partly to get around this, the document shows people’s reactions to the content created, rather than showing the content itself. It also uses the word “content’ as a catch-all for document, manual, book, Help file, Web page, illustration, and so on.

We’ve also developed an ISTC-branded version that the Institute for Technical Communicators could use itself to promote the profession. We’ve sent it to to the ISTC Council for their consideration and comments. The document might be modified if they ask for any changes to be made; for example, we’re wondering if there should be greater emphasis on the writing aspect of the role.

You can download the Cherryleaf version from our website. Let us know what you think, using the comments below or by email.